How to Prepare a Christmas Dinner Party

How to Prepare a Christmas Dinner Party

Holiday dinner 101 for novices So you’ve bought all the presents, the Xbox Ones and iPads for your closest friends and family, and maybe a Rolex Cosmograph for someone really special. You’ve sent out Christmas cards to everyone else, and it would seem like your holiday obligations are done. That said, Christmas isn’t about “obligations” at all, but rather about spending time with the people you care about. One of the best ways to do that is to hold an intimate Christmas dinner party for you and your loved ones. Throwing a dinner party isn’t as daunting as some people make it out to be. Even if you’re a beginner, as long as you have things all planned out, and as long as you keep preparations within realistic expectations, hosting a great yuletide meal shouldn’t prove too hard a task. The first – and probably most important – thing to do is to know who you want to invite and what their food preferences are; this information will be the basis of your dinner. Take note of which things your guests love to eat, and more importantly, which things they can’t eat due to health or dieting reasons. As far as the number of guests goes, a good rule of thumb is to keep it at five people or less, otherwise the intimate atmosphere might get lost. Next comes the menu planning. Using the information gathered from the step above, plan out the courses of the evening, from appetizers to the main dish to desert. For the novice host, try and keep the meal simple. Also, make sure that the recipes are...
Mushroom caps stuffed with red pepper and quinoa

Mushroom caps stuffed with red pepper and quinoa

Our friend The Big Boss from work, a man who could, and did, eat two dozen prawns, half a dozen drumsticks, and an additional two pounds of roasted meat at one sitting, has gone practically vegan. I created these mushroom caps stuffed with red pepper and quinoa for him, a winner of an umami-laden dish that feels hearty and satisfying without any of those pesky high carbs, gluten, or dairy products. My only warning is they take a bit of time. You can make the stuffing in advance; it will keep for several days refrigerated. Ingredients: 36 medium-sized mushrooms, washed with stems removed 1/2 cup quinoa 1/2 teaspoon olive oil 1 cup water 1 red pepper generous splash full-bodied red wine (about 3/4 cup) 1 tbsp nutritional yeast plus extra to sprinkle on top 1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper spray olive oil Instructions: First, get your quinoa cooking. (Follow these directions from The Kitchn if you’re worried about doing it wrong) Whatever you do, don’t overcook it; there’s nothing worse than soggy quinoa. Ok, there are lots of worse things – I’m thinking about the brussels sprouts creme brûlée from LL’s ill-fated 50th birthday party – but for the purposes of this recipe, you want your grain more al dente than mushy. Let cool. Then roast your red pepper. I cut it in half, take out the seeds and membrane, and put it right on top of the gas burner on my cooktop just like I roast poblano peppers. Let the pepper cool, then scrape off any black charred spots. Now simmer your wine burn off the alcohol, or at...
First fish

First fish

A quick stop at Day’s Market for a bag of ice was the daily de rigueur in the sailboat days of our early marriage. No refrigerator on the Ericson 30 we called home, just a deep insulated box under the speck of formica counter that needed constant replenishment to keep our chardonnay chilled and sundries shivery. It had been a long time since I’d even glanced at that sign – a grow-the-baby-to-the-cusp-of-his-twenties length of time, and stopping there again that Saturday morning for a bag of ice made those memories misty and my nostalgia shivery. It wasn’t the time or place to reminisce, though; I had a date with a salmon. This email, from Fisherman Frank of the Gayle R, came late one Friday, 4 or 5 days after the opening of commercial salmon season: Dear Salmon Fans, Plenty of fish, but the early bird always gets the worm!  (No earlier than 10 o’clock though, please). The cost is $10/lb for the whole fish.  Frank will filet and/or steak the fish for you.  Please remember to bring an ice chest. Cash is preferred, but local checks are OK.  If you don’t think you want a whole fish (average is 11-12 lbs), find a friend to split one with you.  Can’t beat the price!! Thanks ~ see you at E-dock! I was a newbie on his list, the one he sends when he’s on his way back to the harbor with a fresh load of live Dungeness crab, so didn’t realize his repertoire included salmon. Who could resist the lure of the freshest, local-est, line caught fish around? Not me. I was there by 10am after a stop at the bank, the...
Quick and easy summer appetizer

Quick and easy summer appetizer

Need a dressy appetizer for a summer potluck? Here’s a ridiculously fast and delicious dish to throw together: shrimp and avocado salsa. There’s no cooking involved, so it’s perfect for the heat of a summer kitchen . . . but save it for the indoor parties, since it’s got to stay cold. I originally threw this together only because some out of town friends surprised us at dinnertime. I had a handful of bay shrimp I’d forgotten to add to our Cobb salads the night before, and since I always want to to use seafood within a day or two of purchase, I took advantage of a “use it or lose it” moment. The richness and sweetness of the shrimp and avocado complement each other nicely, and the extra citrus and pepper add the necessary zing. I threw this all together and just served it with a bowl of tortilla chips. Leftovers the next night were perfect in a choppy green salad. This would also be great tossed into an omelet.   Here are the proportions I used: Shrimp and avocado salsa   Save Print A quick and super-easy appetizer. Author: Life in a Skillet Recipe type: appetiser Ingredients 2 cups pico de gallo (I buy it fresh and cold in the produce section) ¼ lb bay shrimp (I buy these already cleaned and cooked at the fish counter) 1 large avocado, cut into small cubes juice of 2 limes (or other citrus as you see fit) freshly ground pepper Instructions All you need to do is rinse the shrimp and toss them on a glass serving bowl with the...
The messy truth

The messy truth

The honest truth – I make a tremendous mess when I cook. I never manage to put things away as I go and always leave cupboards and drawers open, as the teriyaki-laced bamboo skewers in my utensil drawer attest. So this, or a similar scene, is what awaits me most mornings. By the end of every day I’m too tired, too cranky, too sore, too buzzed, or just too bummed about having spent the better part of the morning doing the previous night’s dishes to tackle the mess. This photo is not as bad as it gets – but still, it would be nice to get a grip. Once a friend turned me on to Flylady, but I’m too much of a contrarian to get with the program. I felt better about my mess after I read the bit in Frank Bruni’s Born Round where he explains that his mother had a second kitchen installed in her basement, one she didn’t let on about. Family would come over to her hot, scrumptious, multi-course meals of freshly made pasta with homemade sauces and roasted meats and freshly baked desserts and marvel at how she could have produced such a feast and kept the kitchen so clean, too. Even Mama Bruni needed to make a mess. I’m in good company. The messy truth is that if you cook a meal you have to clean it up. Eventually. Although preferably before the fruit flies and mice find it. If I had a superpower, I would DEFINITELY be able to summon a cleaning fairy who would load the dishwasher the way I needed it to be...

Pork ragu inspired by La Posta

Tomorrow is our 19th wedding anniversary – 19 truly blissful years of living a cozy family-centric life by the sea. I’m completely appreciative of this life and these years, because it wasn’t always like this. Before LL I lived a comparatively vampirish life as a twenty-something back in St. Louis, energy waxing with sunset and waning at sunrise, tending bar until 1am then hitting a late-night spot or two to unwind. Moving through florescent and neon in a smoky haze. Weekend or weekday. Watching. Waiting. Wishing. Then I made the cross-country move and discovered what I was looking for en plein air, life softly lit by the sea. I met LL and we were married in fairly short order, a family of two we quickly doubled in size. Old habits died fast and hard with babies and bills to take care of, and over the years my weeknight schedule has been unvarying: homework, dinner, TV, tuck-ins, books, and bed. A couple glasses of wine thrown in for good measure. But the boys are older now, and life continues to change. Kid One spent last month in Argentina and Kid Two, of legal age to stay home alone, spent much of his winter break playing computer games with a new friend in Tasmania. So one Tuesday LL and I went out – at night! on a school night! – to join friends for dinner. Child-free and driving in the dark, two things I used to do every single night felt very strange to me now. We calculated that this most likely was literally the first time in our 19 year marriage...
Fresh crab from the Gayle R

Fresh crab from the Gayle R

Freshly steamed Dungeness crab tastes like the early-morning air smells at low tide, succulent and moist and just fantastic. Let go of the fear and mystery involved in getting a big live pinching creature from the ocean to your plate and learn to duplicate this taste. All you need is bucket full of live crabs, a meat cleaver, and a bamboo steamer – this will tell you how.